Guidance for rail staff

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains essential that service providers, including transport operators, make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.

People who are blind and partially sighted rely on support in transport settings in order to navigate through stations and terminals, make connections, and locate entrances to vehicles and seating. This is especially important on new and unfamiliar journeys. 

Assistance can be provided verbally, but often involves sighted guiding. Given the social distancing requirements, transport workers may feel reluctant or unable to support blind and partially sighted passengers as they have previously, and so this guidance has been created to enable staff to support customers with sight loss through good communication skills while maintaining social distancing. 

On this page

General principles

  • Not everyone with vision impairment is totally blind and many retain some useful sight. 
  • Some will use a guide dog or a cane, but the majority travel without a mobility aid and so it may not always be apparent that they have sight loss. 
  • Just like anyone else, people with sight loss will have personal preferences in how they receive support. Probably the most important tip is to always ask the person to tell you how they would like to be helped. It should be possible to assist someone safely but still enable them to retain their dignity.
  • If assisting a guide dog owner, do not interfere with the dog and only give instructions to its owner. 
  • As many people with sight loss have some useful vision, wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard may be helpful for many customers with sight loss as it could make it easier for them to differentiate you from others, especially in a crowded station

Before the passenger arrives

  • Ensure that your website or customer service staff taking telephone enquiries provide information about access to the station and any protocols that have been introduced around social distancing.
  • This might include any changes to entrances or exits, relocation of the taxi rank, any one-way systems brought in to regulate passenger flow, queuing systems at the ticket office, and the location of the passenger assistance desk. This is especially important for customers who are familiar with the station but may be disorientated by changes to layout routes in and around it.
  • Explain to customers how passenger assist at the station will be provided differently to what they are used to but offer reassurance that they will still get the support they need. Social distancing may mean that this takes slightly longer and so they should allow more time. 
  • Ensure that your passenger assist booking system captures as much information as possible in advance to minimise the amount of time needed to communicate with the passenger on the day.
  • This might include finding out if they have any useful vision (some passengers may be able to make out people who are close to them). Ask to find out if they hear better out of one ear or the other, or about their physical mobility. Can they manage stairs? Do they walk very slowly? 
  • Have you got or can you put systems in place to make life easier for an arriving passenger? Could you give them a telephone number they can call from outside the station entrance on arrival so that someone can go outside to find them. Is it possible to arrange to meet them at an agreed time? Is there a number they can call in case the person they are expecting has got delayed?
  • Once the plan is agreed, let them know what they should expect when they arrive.

Effective communication hints and tips

When speaking with a person with sight loss, be yourself and speak naturally and clearly. You should also consider the following tips:

  • Identify yourself – always introduce yourself and inform the person of your name and job title.
  • Always ask the person if they would like any assistance or help and ask them what their name is. 
  • Continue to use normal body language. This will positively affect the tone of your voice and provide extra information to the person who is vision impaired.
  • Don’t be afraid to use everyday language.
  • Never channel conversation through a third person. Always speak directly to the vision impaired person.
  • When verbally guiding a person, ask them if they would like you to walk ahead of them, behind or on their left or right (2 metres distance). Their preference may allow them to use any remaining vision.
  • In areas with restricted space where it is necessary to walk single-file (for instance in the aisle of a train carriage), it is advisable to walk behind the person you are assisting in order that your instructions can easily be heard, and let them know why you have moved.
  • In a group situation e.g. if you have a colleague with you, introduce the other people present.
  • Provide clear instructions when describing a route or when you would like the person to change direction e.g. left and right
  • Describe main features of area – “the edge of the platform is on your right or you are facing the main exit” to help the person orientate themselves (know where they are and what’s around them).
  • Describe the environment around you as features (landmarks and sound) may act as clues to help the person orientate themselves e.g. noise such as ‘the traffic will be on your left’.
  • You may wish to use the ‘clock face technique’ when describing the environment in front of the person e.g. ‘directly in front of you at 12 o’clock is the main exit, to your right at 3 o’clock is the entrance to platform 5. On your left at 9 o’clock is the ticket office’. 
  • When walking always let the person know about differences in the floor surface such kerbs, steps and elevation (up and down)
  • Let them know about any changes in surface such as tactile paving, gravel, tarmac and grass.
  • Inform the person of any obstacles near them that could be trip hazards or that they could accidentally bump into e.g. bollards, posts, benches or bins.
  • When describing a route, you must use accurate and specific language when giving directions. For example, "the door is on your left", rather than "the door is over there".
  • Let them know what is coming up. E.g. “we are approaching the ticket barrier”.
  • If the route involves stairs, ask if they are OK with stairs or if they would prefer to go in the lift (if a lift is available).
  • Try to avoid situations where there is competing or distracting noise.
  • Regularly ask the person if they are OK and that they can hear you. That includes checking to make sure that they are comfortable with the pace at which you are both walking.
  • Once you have both arrived at their desired destination check to ensure they know where they are and ask them if they are OK to continue or if they need further assistance.
  • While social distancing arrangements are in place, vision impaired passengers are even more likely to require assistance in locating a seat on board the train whether they have a reservation or not. Take particular care when giving instructions on boarding or exiting a train with regard to the amount and height of any steps or the size of any gap between the train and platform edge. A guide dog owner is likely to require a priority seat to ensure the dog has enough space to lie down.
  • Having identified the appropriate seat, describe its location (e.g. “just coming up on your left left/right, facing towards/ away from you”) and whether it is airline style or has a table. Before leaving, describe the layout of the carriage including the location of toilets in relation to where the passenger is sitting and the layout of any social distancing restrictions in place.
  • Never leave a conversation with a person without saying so. It’s really important they know when you have left them and they know what to do next once you have gone.
  • Finally, consider asking how the experience was for them or if there is anything that could have been done differently. If there is this could not only benefit you but also the next customer with sight loss for whom you provide assistance.